by Caleb Giddings - Monday, September 16, 2013
The SIG Sauer P-series guns, from the original P220 to the modern P229 are among the most thoroughly tested guns on the market today. The M11 (a military P229) is issued to multiple branches of the armed forces, the P229 itself is issued to countless federal LE agencies, including the Air Marshals and the U.S. Coast Guard. No discussion of SIG's military pistols is complete without mentioning the venerable Mk 25, the 9 mm handgun of the Navy SEALs.
But SIG does more than just guns for the military; they have an extensive line of competition pistols led by its flagship P226 X-5 Competition. However, with a price tag approaching $2,000 the X-5 is a bit expensive for many shooters looking for a competition-ready SIG.
Enter the new P226 Elite SAO, which takes cues from both the traditional lineup of SIG pistols and the competition-proven X-series. The P226 Elite SAO would be equally at home for concealed carry and self-defense, or in a competition holster for 3-gun, Bianchi Cup, USPSA, Steel Challenge or IDPA.
The P226 SAO comes from the factory in the Elite configuration, which means it has a slightly upswept beavertail on the grip. This beavertail helps provide a consistent index for the shooter's dominant hand during the process of drawing the gun. However, some shooters, myself included, don't like the beavertail as much as a factory SIG grip, because it actually pushes the hand lower relative to the bore axis than the non-beavertail SIGs. That being said, I'm no longer convinced that having a slightly higher bore axis is as detrimental as people say it is, and on the P226 SAO it doesn't seem to matter in the slightest.
Other standard features on the pistol are an integral accessory rail, SIGLITE night sites, forward cocking serrations and a very nice checkering job on the gun's frontstrap. The stock trigger on the test gun broke right at 4.5 pounds consistently. Interestingly, the dedicated single-action trigger on this gun had a heavier break than the single-action mode on a Sig M11-A1. This is likely due to the M11-A1 being equipped with the Short Reset Trigger, which in my opinion is the best factory mass-market DA trigger available. However, the 4.5 trigger was easy to manage during all shooting exercises from high-speed bill drills to precision bullseye shooting.
The controls are laid out exactly as you'd expect with a SIG, with one notable addition-the ambidextrous thumb safety. The ambi-safety provided on the gun is quite large, but because of its location it also solves one of the problems I have when shooting SIGs, which is riding the slide stop button. Unfortunately, it also prevents me from pre-loading the slide stop button on slide-lock reloads, which actually made the gun harder to reload from slide-lock than a traditional double action SIG. The safety, however, is large and easy to manipulate when coming out of the holster or manipulating the gun, so there aren't any issues with "missing" the safety on the draw.
Unlike the X-Series P226, the Elite SAO uses an aluminum frame, similar to the standard P226. This keeps the weight down, with the test gun tipping the scales at 36 ounces with an empty magazine. The forward cocking serrations provide ample grip for doing "cool guy press checks" before starting on a stage, and nicely done checkering on the frontstrap helps keep the gun stable during rapid fire.
Recoil isn’t particularly an issue with this gun. Using factory 9 mm ammo, the SIG just shoots nice and soft. It's a pleasant gun to shoot, and it's an easy gun to shoot well. The only thing that really hampers its shootability is the three-dot night sights, but that's a personal preference. For a gun like this, I'd like to see it come from the factory with a blacked-out rear notch and either a black or a fiber-optic front.
Enough talking about specs this and specs that, because what this gun really excels at is putting holes in stuff quickly and accurately. Here's a breakdown of the test protocol for the SIG P226 Elite SAO:
I also shot an additional 100 rounds on various drills and tests just to break the gun in a little bit. Each of the drills listed are standards that are designed to test a specific performance aspect of the gun. The five-shot groups test mechanical accuracy, Dot Torture tests practical shootability and high-speed Bill Drills test the gun's recoil characteristics. All of these are important aspects of a practical pistol.
The SIG turned in some impressive results.
Accuracy was exactly what I've come to expect from SIG pistols-excellent. The 0.970 group turned in with the DC Ammo match load would instantly make this gun a candidate for Bianchi Cup's Metallic division.
In the shootability test, the SIG brought home a perfect score of 50/50 on Dot Torture. Even the tough weak-hand-only string was easy with the SIG, although the relatively heavy single-action trigger did require a little bit of patience. Moving on to speed, the best time turned in on the Bill Drill was 2.04 seconds. It's worth noting that there were a couple of faster times, but those weren't clean runs. The absolute fastest was a 1.84 with two misses outside the 8-inch circle.
In the 205 round evaluation session, the SIG had no stoppages or malfunctions of any type. Obviously, 200 rounds isn't a significant indicator of a gun's long-term reliability, and to really test it I'd want to run it through the 2,000 round challenge. However, 200 initial rounds are enough to make me feel comfortable with taking this gun to a match, or using it for home defense.
The SIG Sauer P226 Elite SAO would fill a lot of niches quite nicely in the shooting sports. It's an excellent fit for 3-gun, where capacity is important, and with 20-round mags available, you could do a lot of shooting without having to reload. Obviously, the accuracy makes it a great candidate for a Bianchi Cup Metallic Division winner right out of the box. Similarly, it's well-suited for the Steel Challenge Limited division. There's no power factor in Steel Challenge, so the 9 mm caliber isn't a hindrance here. The gun is light and easy to shoot, so a skilled shooter could put up some quick times. It's also well-suited for IDPA, where it would be an automatic contender in the Enhanced Service Pistol division. ESP is dominated by 1911s in 9 mm, so the larger, easier to shoot SIG P226 would be an excellent choice.
In fact, there's really only one big problem with this gun, and it's a problem that it shares with a very good car. The Porsche Cayman S is cheaper than a 911, but in many aspects it performs just as well as a 911. The SIG Sauer P226 Elite SAO is cheaper than an X-5, and like the Cayman, it performs just as well as its larger, heavier, more-expensive older brother. I suppose in the grand scheme of things that's a good problem to have, because the SIG Sauer P226 Elite SAO really is just that good.
Manufacturer: SIG Sauer: SIGSauer.com
Model: P226 Elite SAO
Caliber: 9 mm
Frame Finish: Black Hard Anodized
Slide Finish: Nitron
Trigger Pull: 5 lbs.
Barrel Length: 4.4”
Weight: 34.4 ozs.
Sights: SIGLITE Night Sights
Accessories: Lock, manual, two magazines, hard case
Suggested Retail Price: $1,218
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